The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Part IV – 'A Crown of Thorns'
With Lance’s arm still wrapped around his waist, Cody smiled radiantly, enjoying his discovery. I felt Nic put his arm around me, but it was far away – I was already focusing on the faint sound in my head. Everyone became still, almost forgetting to breathe in anticipation of what I would discover. I remained quiet and began to concentrate harder. I took a deep breath and focused inward, while at the same time allowing my mind to flow outward, into the city.
It was a simple exercise and I performed the feat with ease; amazed at how effortlessly I could accomplish what had once been a difficult task. I continued to allow myself to relax as my mind reached out into the thoughts and emotions that swirled about the city. After amplifying the initial sound in my mind, it quickly became obvious that I was hearing an orb – nothing else made that kind of sound. The coffins made a deep, low, rumbling sound, but the orbs were always higher pitched and much lighter in tone.
Turning back to Cody, I smiled. “You’re right. It’s an orb for sure.”
“What now?” Cody asked.
“We find it,” I replied, and turned to look inquiringly at Nic.
Nic nodded in agreement and in an instant, we were bounding back down the steps of the forum, headed to our horses. Lance remained with Cody, but David – eager for some action – flew to join us. The stable boys were just arriving to tend to our mounts, but Nic ordered them back to the stable to secure a horse for David. At the same time he asked Juston Tark if we could have additional infantry and cavalry troops to accompany us into the city. Tark, attuned to making sure we had enough protection, readily agreed and ordered a soldier to the barracks to conscript and organize a small force of fresh troops. He also informed Nic that he would be riding with us.
Within minutes a horse appeared for David, while Aaron Blaze, leading a contingent of ten infantry and six cavalrymen from Cohort Hawk entered the forum in a rapid double-time march. When he was sure everyone was prepared, Nic barked out a series of orders. David, who had been talking to Prince Andrew, broke away and climbed on his fresh mount. Nic was already astride Galad, and I quickly jumped on Arax’s back. Captain Tark, who’d never dismounted, nudged his horse close to Nic and waited for Hawk. Sergeant Blaze made a quick inspection of his men while they stood stiffly at attention.
“Cohort Hawk ready, sir,” Blaze’s voice in rapid staccato echoed through the forum.
“Everyone else ready?” Nic asked, looking around at the group. When he got affirmative nods and replies he shouted, “Let’s go.”
I moved into the lead with Hawk as two of the cavalrymen closed in to cover my flanks – if there really was an orb I would be the one who would find it. My heels thumped against Arax’s ribs as I urged him into a canter, but I abruptly slowed when Nic called out to me.
“We’re not in that much of a hurry Jamie,” he said, sounding a bit irritated. “Let’s make sure we all stay together, and don’t get ahead of the infantrymen. This is the first time we’ve been out since the attack on the parade ground, and it’s not going to hurt to pay attention and stay vigilant. Chances are it’s ok, but we don’t need to take unnecessary risks.”
I nodded and paused while Sergeant Blaze and his foot soldiers caught up with us.
“Sorry Nic,” I said, grinning a little sheepishly. “I guess I’m just eager to find the orb.”
“It’s ok Jamie, I understand,” he said. “But we need to be careful.”
Moving a bit slower, I continued in the lead since I was the one most attuned to the song of the orb. Exiting the forum at a slow trot – the infantrymen jogging alongside, and clattered down one street after another, weaving left and right depending on my perception of where the energy source lay. At one point I became confused when I realized that I had inadvertently doubled back on our original route, but after a pause and more concentration, I spurred Arax on.
“That was strange,” I commented to Nic, who was following close behind. “It seems as if someone just moved it from one part of the city to another. That’s what made me double back.”
Nic simply nodded and we continued, threading our way through the narrow streets and alleys of the oldest part of Konassas. Looking about I could see that our small retinue was garnering the attention of the city’s inhabitants. Although they’d seen our comings and goings on a regular basis, they were always watchful when we were out and about among them. Rumors, stories and news always circulated rapidly throughout the city and the tale of the brutal parade ground ambush was no exception. Within an hour after it ended, lurid descriptions of the attack had spread like wild fire throughout every quarter of Konassas – the result being a political division of the populace.
From the latest information we received from the High Council, for the most part everyone in the city was generally supportive, but after the attack two distinct groups had formed. The first thoroughly supported us in any way they could. This included the high council, the garrison, prominent tradesmen and merchants like the tailor, Master Crown, and almost any of the common people of Konassas who’d come to truly know us. The second group – while not hostile or unsympathetic to our plight – were fearful that our presence would further incur the wrath of the Holy Office and the sooner we permanently relocated to a place other than behind the walls of the city, the better. Now three Icarians, the captain of the garrison, six cavalrymen, and eleven foot soldiers all heavily armed and rushing through the narrow streets of the city was more than enough to pique the interest of the citizens who we happened to encounter.
As we rode on, I realized that with each passing minute we were coming closer to the Square of the Merchants. We slowed to a walk as the activity on the street swirled around us and we began to encounter crowds of people, coming from or going to the market. Approaching the square, I took note of the many merchants, along with their servants, and workers carting a variety of goods to be sold in the marketplace.
When we finally arrived at the perimeter of the square, it appeared to be much busier than I ever remembered. The crowds of people milling about were at least double the normal number on any other given market day. Looking over at one of the corners of the square, the reason for the crush of people quickly became quite apparent.
In that corner stood the stalls of three traders whom I’d never seen before, and it was clear they were the source of the increased excitement; around their stalls congregated the largest gathering of people in the entire marketplace. With the help of the foot soldiers, who moved, and sometimes pushed, people out of our path, we made our way to their stalls. Directly in front of them, I paused and surveyed the scene.
Examining the merchant’s displays, I could see why their stalls were such an attraction. Before me sat an array of spices, scents and oils such as I had never seen sold in the market. Next to them lay bolts of beautiful fabric, also unlike anything ever sold there before. There were finely fashioned gold earrings, rings, and other exquisitely handcrafted jewelry scattered throughout the displays.
The prices of these luxurious goods were high, and I noticed that not many people were buying the merchandise, but that didn’t prevent a large crowd from congregating and gawking at the beautiful displays set before them.
Catching Nic’s eye, I gave him a knowing nod that he immediately understood – an orb was right here in front of us.
“Nic, it’s here,” I said, confirming for him what he had seen in my eyes.
Quickly we all dismounted, and Nic walked up to the one of the merchants. The man was well dressed in a long silk robe, tied with a bright red sash. Hanging from the sash was a large ring of keys that jingled as he moved. He had a green velvet cloak over his shoulders that matched the green velvet hat on his head. A short golden plume stuck out of it, and a small golden chain ran from it and wound around the hat’s crown.
“May I help you?” the merchant said with a smile, and I saw his eyes immediately land on Nic’s golden wings. “I have all manner of beautiful things to offer you, my Lord.”
“There is something we’re looking for,” Nic stated. “We have reason to believe that you posses an object that we are interested in.”
“As you can see, my Lord,” the merchant continued, now giving Nic a deep and formal bow, “we have a large selection of merchandise from all over the four kingdoms.”
After he finished speaking, I noticed that while he was still smiling it appeared rather forced and artificial and it hadn’t reached his eyes, which viewed us with suspicion and deep worry.
“It’s not something we see displayed,” I said, as I slid past Nic and stood before the man. “It’s an object that’s round, glowing, and shaped like a sphere.”
“Unfortunately my lords, I have nothing that meets that description.” His false smile remained unchanged.
I looked at Nic and shook my head, disagreeing with the merchant. Nic frowned and then walked directly in front of the man and stared at him.
"We know it's here or very close by, and we would like to examine it."
"But I tell you sir, we have no such object," the man said, and as he finished speaking I noticed he stepped back when Nic looked into his eyes.
Retreating a bit further into his stall he began to turn away from us. As he did, Nic grabbed his cloak and pulled him back. The merchant struggled to get away, and then he tripped and fell backward, crashing into Nic, who started to fall beneath him. He shoved the merchant off to one side and landed on top of the smaller man. They fell over one of the tables, the legs buckled and suddenly everything on it came crashing to the ground. Containers of spices shattered and spilled open, bolts of fabric rolled and unraveled, and jewelry skittered across the cobblestone blocks of the square. The table lurched sideways and slammed into one of the supports holding up the canopy over the merchant’s wares, and the entire structure collapsed, hitting the stall next to it and bringing it down in a welter of fluttering canopy. I stood there, amazed by the effect of one scuffle. The men of Cohort Hawk sprang forward, adding to the confusion as they trampled the canvas and fallen goods.
Nic was the first to recover and rose up out of the devastation, shrugging away the canvas. He reached down, grabbed the merchant by his robe, and lifted him to his feet. The trader, who was shorter than Nic, now kicked helplessly, his feet dangling about four inches off the ground as Nic lifted him in the air.
“Please sir, I know nothing,” the man cried out. He looked frightened, his face was purpling rapidly, and he was beginning to plead. “Please, m’Lord, my stall… my goods… I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I think I have what you’re looking for,” a strange sounding voice stated from behind the stall. Nic put down the frightened merchant and we two walked around the solitary stall that still remained standing in order to get a clear look.
Lying on the cold stone pavement of the square, his back propped against the wall of a nearby building was an old beggar. Because it wasn't uncommon to encounter them, no one had noticed him. Market days always brought the poor, the blind and the lame to the Square of the Merchanags where they would beg for coin, try to get a free meal, or even attempt to steal from the crowds of shoppers, and stalls of the merchants.
Many of the beggars would wander the square with their hands outstretched, openly begging for money. Others would claim a spot near a stall and plead to those who would make a purchase for the spare coin they received in change. The oldest and most infirm beggars could be found propped against the walls of the buildings that bordered the square. Unlike those who roamed the square or had permanent spots in front of merchant’s stalls, this third group hid in the shadows, too sick or too old to do more than drop to the ground, lean against a wall, and call out for help from the shadows.
This beggar seemed to fall into that category. He was very old; all of his teeth were missing. His skin was paper-thin, and deeply scored and wrinkled. His right eye was missing, and it was a bit disconcerting to look into his face and see the dark, vacant hole where it had once been. His other eye, bloodshot darted about, never resting long on any one thing or person. As he began to move, I noticed that he was missing his left leg and I could see a stump sticking out of the torn and filthy rags that were his only clothing.
“Is this what you’re interested in?” he said, lifting up the ripped and dirty cloak he had wrapped around his body.
Looking closer, I saw that nestled in the folds of his cloak was an orb. It was a purple color and the light pulsing from it had a warm glow. Anyone standing close to the old beggar could hear the faint hum it emitted. That hum was a much louder, high pitched whine in my own head, and its pulsing escalated with the increased handling it was now receiving.
“Where did you get that?” David asked, standing directly over him.
“It’s mine,” the beggar replied, studying David closely.
“You may have found it, or stolen it,” David continued, “but I’m sure it’s not yours.”
“No David, it is mine, and may I say that I am pleased to see that you have turned into quite a fine young Royal Throne.”
At the mention of his name, David tensed and put his hand on the hilt of his sword. “How do you know me?” he said, eyeing the man suspiciously.
The beggar, ignoring David’s words and menacing pose turned toward me and continued. “And even though that little Imperial may think its his, it has always been my property – although I may be willing to share.” He smiled, and his toothless grin made my skin crawl.
As he continued to speak I noticed that the old beggar’s voice gradually changed as it took on a stronger, firmer tone.
“What are you talking about?” Nic shouted, “and how do you know David and Jamie?” Unlike David who’d surreptitiously gone for his sword and palmed a hidden dagger, Nic made no such move choosing instead to draw his sword and openly brandish it in front of the beggar.
The beggar, still ignoring any questions, looked up at Nic. “Niklas, what a magnificent creature you’ve become. I’m sure you’re as deadly as a quick-acting poison with that weapon. Now let’s all be honest with each other. You know as well as I do that this is one of the Orbs of Lon Nol?” the old man said, still clutching the orb tightly in his hands.
“Well if you know that, then you know that it is rightfully belongs to the Wizard of Icaria,” Nic replied making no move to sheath his sword.
“Is that so?” the beggar said as he smiled up at us, and his strange grin heightened my uneasiness.
“Well, if it truly is one of the Orbs of Lon Nol, then doesn’t it make sense that they belong to Lon Nol?” the beggar asked.
“Don’t play games with us,” David said, now drawing his short sword, and I could hear the anger in his voice.
“Oh, forgive me. I’ve been quite rude.” The old beggar grabbed the crutch that was leaning against the wall and began to pull himself up on his one leg. As he did, both Nic and David moved to prepare for a possible attack. Oblivious to the two royal thrones’ defensive posture, the beggar, now drawn up to his full height, continued, “I’ve failed to introduce myself. I am Lon Nol.”
For a few seconds we all stood there in silence, looking at the old man and each other.
“What kind of nonsense are you feeding us?” Nic growled angrily.
“It’s hardly nonsense, Niklas,” the old man responded, still smiling.
Out the corner of my eye, I noticed that there was some commotion in the square. In a matter of seconds, a breathless Charles ran up to us, with a small band of soldiers following him.
“I went into the palace as soon as we dismounted. I was surprised when I looked around and found that no one was behind me. When I went back to the forum, Sandro told me what happened.”
“There wasn’t time,” Nic said. “Although, under the circumstances, I’m glad you’re here Charles, but first I want to commend you for having the sense to bring some protection and not go off on your own.”
I frowned at Nic’s words, knowing they were most likely meant for me. If anyone was prone to rashly set out on his own, it was probably me. I bit my tongue, but made note that I would discuss it later with Nic, once we had the present situation sorted out.
Charles, breathless from dashing across the square, continued, “If you thought you found an orb, why didn’t you simply come in and get me so I could…?”
He stopped in mid sentence as his eyes fell on the old one-eyed, one-legged, toothless beggar. He walked closer to him and then for a full minute just stared.
“Well Charles,” the old beggar said, “I’m pleased to see that you’ve joined us.”
“You,” Charles barely whispered.
“What do you mean, Charles?” I said, taking his arm and turned him around to face me.
“It’s Lon Nol, the creator of the orbs,” Charles said.
“What?” I replied, giving him a look of disbelief. “Charles, he’d have to be over 2,500 years old.”
“Well, we’re over twenty-five hundred years old, so what’s the difference?” Charles said.
I frowned. I hadn’t thought about that and quickly became quiet.
“I’ve been waiting to see all of you for a very long time. I’m glad this joyous day has finally arrived.”
We all kept staring at him. When no one said a word, Lon Nol continued. “This clearly isn’t the proper place for a meeting or any further discussion. I suggest we go back to where you’re all staying.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Charles added distractedly, and I could see a worried look cross his face.
In a matter of minutes we procured a small cart with a horse. The old beggar claiming to be Lon Nol was placed in it. He had a small wooden chest with him that he was adamant about bringing along with him and right before he was placed in the cart, he put the orb in it. Once he and the chest were secure, we began our trip back to the palace.
As we rode I glanced at Charles. His look told me a lot and I began to concentrate as my mind probed into his.
Charles, I can’t even begin to believe this is happening.
Believe it, Jamie. As much as I don’t want to, I have to tell you he really is Lon Nol.
I don’t know. Lon Nol supposedly died shortly after Croal.
Do you know for a fact that he died?
No. I wasn’t anywhere near Küronas when Lon Nol was said to have died.
So what do we do now?
We wait and we watch. We don’t let our guard down.
I agree Charles, but at least we seem to have another orb.
Well, we have to get you to assimilate it as soon as possible. Tonight would be good.
Yes, I agree.
Moving as rapidly as possible through the crowded city, we arrived at the palace in record time. Lon Nol and his few meager possessions were unloaded from the cart and a pair of soldiers carried him into the palace. Before we started to go our separate ways, it was agreed that we would all meet for dinner that evening, and that Lon Nol would join us. Nic ordered a guard to accompany the old man and also to watch him, telling the solders not to let him leave the apartment he was assigned.
An eerie pallor hung over everyone for the rest of the day. Nic, David, and Lance left for their training. Juston Tark accompanied them in order to conduct a strategy session and discuss what had happened in the Square of the Merchants. Charles went off to his administrative meetings, but not before he ran back to his room and retrieved a small volume on post-Enlightenment history. The little boys went off to play, and I retired to my apartment to study.
At one point during my studies, Andrew joined me and we had a brief discussion – not on the secret cache of documents he’d discovered as we usually did, but the discovery of Lon Nol. Later in the day Luc and Jonathan joined me at the training barracks with Brotus for a practice session on the Battlecom. But my thoughts were unsettled and I harbored an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. That evening during the sparring session, my private training program LORAN COMBAT SESSION got an extra hard work-out. Brotus seemed to sense my unease, because as I prepared to climb the steps leading from the bath he was standing there offering me a towel.
“So what do you make of this, sparrow?” he asked.
“I’m as puzzled as everyone else, Brotus,” I answered as I slowly dried myself. I dropped to one of the benches circling the large pool that served as the bath. Brotus joined me and studied me in silence as I dried my legs and feet. “I have no memory of Lon Nol. Other than having the essences of three of the twelve orbs he created flowing through my body, I know nothing of the man.”
“Do you think it’s a trick?”
“It could be,” I said, as I rose and started to dress. “What do you think? You’re a soldier. You’ve seen battles, and ambushes. You've encountered spies and have been privy to intrigue,” I added, recalling his many tales of adventure.
“I think…,” he paused and leveled a stern gaze at me. “I think you’d better watch your back, sparrow. I think you’d better remain close to His Highness in the next few days. I think you’d better sleep with one eye open.”
“Well, it can’t be that bad?” I said. “Can it?”
“Heed what I say, little boy. Just heed what I say.” And with that he rose and made his way back to the Battlecom to gather up and store the armor and weapons we’d used in the course of our session.
I stood and watched him leave, then finished dressing and gathered up Luc and Jonathan. We emerged from the training barracks a bit later than usual and even though I’d bathed and put on a fresh tunic, I was still sweaty and overheated. As we journeyed home, I had the uneasy feeling we were being watched. It was the same feeling I’d had a few days prior to the parade ground attack, but it was fleeting and try as I might, I found that I couldn’t pinpoint the source of my suspicions. Still, it left me quite uneasy, and I went to dinner with no appetite.
When I arrived in the main drawing room of the palace I was amazed at the number of people assembled. Of course all the Icarians – save Miro – were there. Captain Tark, along with Lord Ottavia, and a few members of the High Council, were also in the room. Prince Andrew arrived a few seconds after us, accompanying two of General Zakaria’s senior staff officers. Standing in the corner I spied the ambassador from Aradamia – sent by his king to visit and check on the health and progress of Cody. But after making a careful survey of the room, I noticed that the man claiming to be Lon Nol was nowhere to be found.
“Where’s our honored guest?” I asked.
“He’s being brought now,” Charles said.
And no sooner had he spoken than the door of the room opened and in strode the mysterious beggar accompanied by two very large and imposing guards. I blinked at the figure crossing the floor, shook my head and blinked again “Who are you?” I said, as I looked at the tall and distinguished looking man who moved to stand directly in front of me.
“Jamie, I’m surprised; you don’t recognize me? I’m sure Charles does.”
I just stood staring at him.
“Lon Nol,” Charles said, his face registering a look of disbelief.
The old lame toothless one-eyed beggar was gone. Standing before me on two legs, looking at me with two bright and sparkling eyes and smiling at me with a set of flawless white teeth was a man who appeared to be about seventy years old. Even his worn, paper-thin, wrinkled skin looked better than when I’d first seen him.
“All bionics Jamie,” he said, as a low chuckle emerged from his lips. “What do you think was in that chest I insisted on bringing?”
“Well, after you’ve lived for over twenty-five hundred years and had to deal with all the wars, strife, and political intrigue that I’ve had to contend with, I’ve learned that it’s never good to show your hand too early. The years have been a bit hard on me, but as you can see I’ve managed to compensate. When I need to blend in with the background, I simply remove my bionic prosthesis, put on some filthy rags and apply a bit of makeup and dirt. It works every time. I become someone of no interest and I gain what I desire most – anonymity.”
I continued to stand before him not saying a word. Then he laughed a hearty laugh, and looked me directly in the eye.
“I’m sorry, but it’s not going to work on me.”
I tried to give him a puzzled look, but we both knew what had just occurred between us.
“Your mind probing won’t have any affect on me. Remember, I’m the one who worked at giving you that power, and I’m the master here.”
I quickly suppressed a frown, trying hard not to show my true feelings to the man standing before me, who now represented both a puzzle and a great concern, but I was sure that my distrust was obvious.
“Come every one, let’s begin our dinner.” It was Lord Ottavia. “We can learn more about our new friend as we break bread together.”
“That’s just like Ottavia,” I said under my breath to Charles, who was standing nearby, “always thinking about his stomach.”
Yet, even as I said it, I knew I was being unfair – beneath Ottavia’s ‘hail fellow, well met’ exterior lurked the brilliant and tough mind of a master political strategist, infused with a selfless love of his country. Charles caught my eye as we sat down, but nothing more was said.
I didn’t eat much during the dinner. There was a great deal of talk that went back and forth between everyone at table and Lon Nol, but what interested me the most was that no matter how many questions he was asked, he never really supplied any answers. He was pleasant enough, and seemed to charm many of those dining with us, but his charm didn’t reach to me as I studied him through every course served. I barely touched my food until one of the servants whispered to me that Master Arnod would wonder what was wrong with his food since I hadn’t eaten any. Making a more concerted effort, I thought I was convincing, until the same servant returned and told me that Master Arnod was most concerned, and would be sending a plate of fruit and cheeses to our apartment before Nic and I retired for the evening. When dinner was over, everyone arose from the table and proceeded to the drawing room, where tiny glasses of a gold colored after-dinner beverage waited for those that wished to partake. As I followed the others, I noticed that even though I barely touched my plate, I’d developed a case of indigestion. As everyone slowly filtered into the grand salon, I lingered in the hall with Charles.
Just then Jonathan brushed up next to me. “Jamie, why does that old man have a dark cloud around him?”
“What are you talking about, Jonathan?” I said, looking down at the little boy.
“Why does that man have a dark cloud all around him?” he asked a second time.
“Jonathan, I don’t have any idea what you are talking about. There’s no cloud around him.”
“Yes, there is. Can’t you see it?”
“No, I can’t.”
“It’s floating around his head, and it’s dark.”
“But you can’t see, what makes you say that?”
“Well I can feel it, it’s all around him. I thought all of you could see it.”
“Uhm… no I can’t, and I don’t think that anyone else can.”
“Do me a favor, Jonathan. Don’t tell anyone what you just told me unless I ask you.”
“Is this like the other secret that Luc and I aren’t supposed to talk about?”
“Yes, it’s exactly like that. So please don’t say anything. Ok?”
“Sure Jamie, I won’t tell anyone.” He giggled and ran off to Luc.
Waiting for Jonathan to leave, I paused and turned to Charles, giving him a worried look.
“Are you ready?” Charles said.
“The orb, of course,” he said.
“I guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I, Charles? I just hope I don’t have a headache for a week.”
“Well, from what I know about it Jamie, you won’t have to worry about that. By now you’re strong enough and most likely the essences of the other orbs in your system will greatly cushion any possible shock.”
“Let’s hope you’re right, Charles,” I said, still not looking forward to what I knew was about to happen.
Together we stepped into the drawing room where everyone was already assembled. I took a seat next to Nic, who took my hand in his.
“So Lon Nol, how does one survive for over twenty-five hundred years?” I asked as I took my seat.
“Very carefully, my little Imperial.”
“No really,” I prodded, “what happened after Croal died and we were all put into our coffins?”
“They were stasis vessels, Jamie, and I can see by looking at all of you that they did their job quite well.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“There will be ample time for questions to be answered, Jamie.”
“What’s wrong with right now?”
“Jamie,” Lord Ottavia said, “we’ll have lots of time for that. Let’s just have a pleasant evening.
“Yes Jamie,” Charles said on cue, “I think we have some pressing business to take care of.”
“Fine,” I curtly replied.
With Charles’ words, the door of the drawing room opened and in walked Sandro, carrying the glowing, pulsing orb.
As soon as he crossed the threshold, Lon Nol jumped up from his seat.
“What are your doing with that?”
“Well, it’s an orb,” I said.
“The Purple Orb of the Dragon, to be exact,” Charles added.
“But what are you doing with it?” Lon Nol was quickly moving toward Sandro. “It happens to belong to me.”
Nic stood up, blocking his way.
“Well, Jamie’s going to absorb its essence,” Charles continued. “He’s already absorbed the essences of three of the orbs and the sooner he absorbs the essence of this orb, the better it’s going to be for the future of Icaria. We can’t risk allowing it to fall into hostile hands. The Orb of the Hawk was lost to Loran, and we can’t have that occur again.”
“But that orb was in my possession; you had no right to take it.”
“Maybe it was in your possession, but all of the orbs belong to the Wizard of Icaria,” Charles answered sharply.
“I created the Orbs. I should know to whom they belong,” Lon Nol said, his voice rising throughout the room. Once more he attempted to step forward.
“Well, you’ve been outvoted,” Nic said curtly as he firmly took Lon Nol’s arm, preventing him from moving any further toward Sandro and the orb.
Before anything more could be said, Charles stepped over to Sandro, took the glowing ball from his hands and grasped it firmly in his own.
I began to walk toward Charles. As I did, I could see the orb become more agitated. It began to pulse and glow much more brightly. The high-pitched sound it emitted increased an octave or two. I looked across the room to Jonathan who was holding his ears, but I knew that wouldn’t help since the sound was not transmitted on the air. It was only sounding in our heads. The non-Icarians in the room could see the beating pulses of the orb, but couldn’t hear any sound at all save for a faint humming.
The orb was beautiful. All of the orbs that I’d encountered were interesting objects – glowing pulsing globes of liquid light, but this orb – The Orb of the Dragon – was deep purple in color. The glow that emanated from it was warm and appealing. There was something about it that made it look regal. If someone had asked me to explain it, I couldn’t have put it into words, but somehow I could tell that the orb wanted to join with me.
As I approached Charles he just stared at me, then he gave me a slight smile. He gently tossed the orb into the air; it arced slightly and struck the floor about two feet in front of me. It hit the polished marble floor of the salon and shattered. A glowing purple essence oozed from it. The essence moved about slowly, writhing on the floor like a slithering snake. Finally it reared up and leapt into the air. Just as the essences of all the other orbs had done, it hovered for a few seconds in front of me and then rushed towards me. I felt a sharp stab as it entered my chest.
At first I thought I was going to be ill or dizzy, or even faint as I had in the past, but this time I simply felt a warm sensation that started in my chest and began to radiate throughout my body. Somehow I felt a sense of recognition from the orb, a feeling of homecoming. This was the orb of my house, the Imperial House of the High Seraphim, and it seemed to recognize me and welcome me as kin. The feeling was rather pleasant and I basked in the sensation. I slowly walked around the room pausing occasionally at the randomly clustered groups of people assembled to witness this sight.
As I surveyed those around me, I saw Nic still standing with his hand on Lon Nol’s arm. He was holding him firmly and preventing him for approaching me. In one corner of the room, Luc and Jonathan stood watching, and I could hear Luc carefully describing the scene to Jonathan in great detail.
In another corner of the room, Juston Tark stood with one hand on his hip. It almost looked like he was ready to smile at me – something that, like his father the general, he rarely did. Standing next to him was Prince Andrew; he was staring intently at me. I turned around, basking in the glow of the orb as its power raced through my body. As I turned toward Lord Ottavia and the ambassadors from the other Kingdoms, I noticed that they were in total awe at what they were witnessing – a few even bowed to me in deference and respect.
I walked back to the center of the room. As I did, I could feel a burning sensation on my right thigh. I looked down. In one of the vacant sections of the tattoo on my leg, smoke suddenly arose from my skin. I lifted up my tunic for a better look and there, as everyone – including myself – looked on, the figure of a dragon slowly etched itself into my skin. It emerged next to the section where the bat had been branded many months before, when I absorbed its essence in the abbey of Abbot Gude.
By now I was standing next to Nic, who was still blocking the way of Lon Nol. I walked up to Lon Nol and studied him very closely. The Purple Orb of the dragon had given me a keen sense of sight, and it seemed that I was looking at him more closely and more carefully than I had ever looked at anyone or anything before.
“That went rather well,” I remarked, more to myself than anyone else in the room.
“Are you ok, Jamie?” Nic asked.
“Other than feeling a bit warm, I’m fine,” I said looking up at him. “Actually the warm sensation feels wonderful – almost comforting.”
As I spoke, I looked over to the corner where Juston Tark was standing. “May I please have your sword, Captain?” I called out, walking toward him. Tark, saying nothing, looked intently at me.
“Captain Tark, would you please be so kind as to lend me your sword?” I repeated. “Neither Niklas, David nor Lancelot is wearing theirs, so I wonder if I could trouble you for yours for just one minute.”
“Uhm… well yes… I guess,” he hesitatingly answered, giving me a frown.
Tark, like General Zakaria and most of the Xannameirian officers, carried a sword slightly longer and heavier than the swords Nic, Lance and the twins used. I’d never seen him without it, and secretly wondered if he slept with it. By the time I was in front of him, he had pulled it from the scabbard that was belted around his waist, and held it out to me, hilt first, with the blade lying across his forearm.
I grasped the sword from his outstretched arm. Although from experience I knew it to be quite heavy, it seemed as light as a feather. I suspected that the energy from the Orb of the Dragon was responsible for the phenomenon.
Sword in hand, I returned to Nic and Lon Nol. Both of them followed me with their eyes – Nic had the most puzzled of looks on his face as he observed me. I walked up to the great bio-neural scientist of Küronas and with a swift flick of my wrist, before Nic or anyone else could stop me, I quickly swung the sword up over my head, then down and to the left, separating Lon Nol’s head cleanly from his body.
“Ahhhh!” screamed Luc from the corner.
Tark ran towards me. One of the ambassadors fainted. Lord Ottavia stood white-faced, his hands clenching the fabric of his tunic.
“Jamie, what the bloody hell…?” Nic yelled at me, but stopped as sparks and lightning flew from Lon Nol’s neck where his head had been severed, and watched his body fall woodenly to the floor.
The body of Lon Nol shuddered, and a sharp grinding sound arose from deep within its chest. It was a sound no human ever made – instead, it was that of a machine trying to function even though its gears were locked. The corpse jerked and convulsed for a few seconds. Its arms and legs flailed about in a strange, non-human fashion. A pale, greenish liquid poured from the neck of the convulsing body. A few feet away, the eyes in the disembodied head blinked rapidly for a few seconds but finally stopped and froze wide open, staring lifelessly at nothing as a small amount of smoke drifted from Lon Nol’s gaping mouth. A crowd gathered in a small circle around the body.
“Thank you, Captain,” I said without emotion as I handed Tark’s sword back to him.
I saw him look at the greenish fluid that was on the edge of the blade and hold the sword at arm’s length.
“That thing wasn’t human.” Lord Ottavia gasped, stating the obvious in a shaky whisper.
“I had my doubts shortly after he entered the drawing room,” I said calmly. “Then Jonathan’s statement about him having a dark cloud around his head made me even more suspicious, but I was completely convinced after I received the essence of The Orb of the Dragon.”
“What do you mean about a dark cloud?” Charles asked.
“Jonathan told me that he saw a dark cloud around Lon Nol. When I asked how he knew this to be true – since he couldn’t see it – he told me that he felt it. After his comment, I realized that his observation was rooted in a physical sensation.”
“I still don’t understand,” Tark said.
“Well, ask a person who’s been blind from birth what the color red looks like – they have no idea. ‘Red’ is just a word; they may try to put some meaning to it in their mind, but they can’t describe it in the same way that a sighted person would.
“It’s the same with a deaf person who has no idea what the ringing of a bell sounds like if they’ve been totally deaf from birth. In that case, they may transfer the vibration of the bell itself or the vibration it makes in the surrounding air as it hits their skin to a sound. So when they feel that vibration, they know that the bell is ringing, but they can’t describe the actual sound because they’ve never heard it.
“Jonathan did the same thing. He said he saw a cloud, when in fact he doesn’t even know what a real cloud looks like. But his blindness has honed his other senses to greater sensitivity. What he was calling a ‘cloud’ was, in fact, an elevated amount of heat and steam vapors that this thing was emitting. He could feel it. Those of us who were sighted were looking with our eyes, and didn’t notice this subtle difference, but he was looking at Lon Nol using different senses and it was perfectly obvious to him.
“When Lon Nol first entered the room I tried to read his mind. When I couldn’t, he made the remark that it wasn’t possible. He implied that since he was the master of the orbs he had honed his skills of mind control, thus preventing me from scanning him. In fact, he had no idea I was trying to scan him because he couldn’t feel anything; he just made a guess when he saw me staring with greater intensity at him than I had anyone else. His guess was right and so to all of you it looked like he had the ability to block me.
“The fact is when I tried to scan him, I got nothing. It was like trying to scan a table or a marble pillar. There was no true life force to lock onto. I did get a strange sensation, but it certainly didn’t feel like anything I had ever encountered, so that added to my suspicions.
“After I absorbed the essence of the dragon, my senses became heightened. As I looked around the room I noticed that everyone was giving off an aura. I can’t describe it, but its something only a living being can emit. There was only one person not emitting the aura – Lon Nol. There was nothing but coldness around him.”
“So who created this creature? How did they get an orb, and why did they come into the city?” Cody asked.
“All very important questions, but unfortunately there are no answers,” Charles said.
“I think whoever perpetrated this is still in the city,” I volunteered.
“Why, Jamie?” Charles asked.
“Ever since yesterday I've felt the presence of someone watching me. It happened last evening after I finished my training session, and then again today.”
“Why didn’t you tell us this?” Nic asked. He seemed a bit angry.
“Nic, it was just a fleeting feeling. It only lasted a second. In fact, I thought I was probably imagining things or was just tired from my session.”
“From now on Jamie, you need to tell us these things,” Charles interjected. “You are becoming more and more powerful, and therefore more sensitive to all kinds of forces.”
“I’m sorry, Nic; I’m sorry, Charles.” I said contritely, “I just didn’t think it was that important but I see what you are saying.” Pausing I looked down at the twisted body on the floor. “This incident has shown me that. I promise I’ll let you know if anything like it happens again.”
“It’s ok, Jamie,” Nic put his arm around me. “You didn’t realize. But please be more aware in the future.”
The death of Lon Nol or whatever the creature was I’d slain put a definite damper on the evening. Lord Ottavia and the members of the High Council quickly offered their excuses and decamped. Tark, ever the military man, sent a group of soldiers to track down the unusual and unknown merchants whom Lon Nol appeared to have been in company with, in order to learn what he could about them, but immediately after issuing the order, he too was gone.
Finally all that remained in the drawing room were we Icarians, along with Luc, Barsetba and Andrew.
“I think it’s time we had a private discussion,” Nic said.
“I have to agree, Nic,” Charles concurred.
And so we all sat down and began to discuss the events of the past months – including our impressions of the recent attacks, our visit to Tahkor, and the thing that called itself Lon Nol. Our discussion continued into the night. At one point there was a knock on the door. Nic got up, and when he opened it I glimpsed a soldier standing in the doorway and the two of them whispered back and forth for a few minutes. Finally, the conversation ended and Nic returned to our circle.
“That was a message from Tark.”
“What did he say?” Lance asked.
“He said that the merchants who appeared in the square for the first time yesterday are gone, along with all of their wares. There’s no trace of them. No one saw them leave or has any idea where they may have gone.”
There was silence and we all looked at each other. Finally turning to the group, I addressed them.
“I can’t and won’t hide my fears from any of you. Whoever created that creature calling itself Lon Nol worries me.”
“I’m convinced it was a remnant of the Enlightened Era,” Charles said. “Its sophistication was far beyond the knowledge and ability of the present population.”
“That’s obvious,” David said, frowning at Charles, “but it still doesn’t answer Jamie’s question.”
“Could there be others like us who survived?” Cody asked.
“You mean more Icarians?” Luc asked.
“Possibly Icarians, but I was thinking about humans from that period – our period – the one we call the Age of Enlightenment,” Cody said. “If we survived, then others – possibly humans – may also have survived.”
“Well, of course humans survived; we’re living among their descendents,” Charles said.
“But what if some of them weren’t susceptible to the plague or somehow a few managed to survive it with their mental faculties intact?” Nic said. “Charles, you told us that the plague rendered humans mentally primitive and it’s taken all this time for them to evolve back to where they were pre-plague. But what if that’s not entirely true? What if some survived? What if, in the final days, someone found a cure for the plague? What if they’ve been hiding, or sleeping in coffins like us?”
“I guess it’s possible,” Philippe said. “I never thought about it that way.”
“Well, it’s something we need to think about,” Nic said. “We’ve made a lot of assumptions – assumptions that may or may not be true. If we survived, couldn’t others – non-Icarians – have survived too?”
“I guess anything’s possible,” Lance offered.
“What about you, Barsetba?” Charles asked, turning to the musician who, like Luc and Prince Andrew, had become one of our closest human friends. “Is it possible? Have you ever heard any rumors, seen anything unusual, come across any strange stories or tales?”
Barsetba looked at all of us for a minute, but said nothing. I was surprised to see how pale he looked; he even appeared fearful. In light of the events of the evening, we were all upset to some degree and as I examined him, I realized the events surrounding the discovery and then death of Lon Nol seemed to have taken their toll on the boy.
“Can’t you see he’s upset?” I said turning to Charles. “If he’d heard anything, don’t you think he’d have told us in all the time he’s been with us?”
Barsetba took a deep breath and nodded, but never said a word.
“But I think Nic’s right, we have to assume every possibility,” I began. “We’ve been rather narrow in accepting what we’ve learned or been told. The appearance of Lon Nol should be a warning to us all. I’ll tell all of you one thing: from the moment I saw that cloak in the treasure vaults of Tahkor, I’ve been having flashbacks. I remember the day I wore it. I was surrounded by people – none of whose names I remember. But I do remember their faces – their strong and resolute faces. They were good and noble people, and on that day I made an oath of sorts to them and I also made promises. I just wish I could remember what they were.”
“Prince de Valèn, Lord Protector,” that’s what you said was embroidered on the hem of the cloak?” Andrew said.
“Yes, in the Icarian language,” I replied and repeated the words softly in Icarian.
Luc’s eyes opened wide, and Barsetba gave me a strange look.
“That’s Icarian?” Luc asked. “I didn’t know you had your own language.”
Smiling at him, Charles spoke. “We lived with humans and were schooled in human speech from infancy, but there is an Icarian language.
“But I’ve never heard any of you speak it,” Andrew said.
“We were all highly socialized by the humans who created us. They didn’t want us to keep secrets,” Charles continued, “so we were taught human speech, but a natural language developed among us. I’m sure Jamie and Nic speak it when they’re alone, as do Cody and Lance. It’s something very private and personal, and we’ve kept it guarded from the beginning. Many of the humans we interacted with never heard it, or even knew it existed.”
“It’s beautiful,” Luc said, “It sounded like you were singing.”
“It’s called The Song of the Ibesan,” Philippe said quietly. “And Miro and I also use it to speak to each other when…” The boy broke off and blushed when he realized what he was about to say.
“Like the bird that lives in the marshes of Brinden?” Luc shouted, saving Philippe the embarrassment of continuing.
“Yes,” Philippe said, “I see the old name still remains. The Ibesan is called the Loon of Brinden.”
“That’s not the issue,” Nic said, interrupting what was turning out to be a lesson on the native Icarian tongue. “Right now we have to survive and we have to go on.”
“Yes Nic, of course you’re right. We do have to go on,” Charles said, then turning to me added, “Jamie, you now have four of the orbs, and your power is growing. We need to continue to strengthen the alliance. We have to plan our journey to Küronas. It’s imperative we keep on the task we’ve set for ourselves.”
“Without fail, Charles,” Nic said.
“Of course,” I said.
“It’s your destiny,” David added. “It’s our destiny.”
“There’s no turning back,” Nic said. “We have some friends, but we’re also surrounded by hostility. Küronas is the key.”
“What about moving to Tahkor?” I asked.
“I think we should stay here,” David said. “Attacks or not, we’re really not going to be completely safe until we have a land and a kingdom of our own. No matter where we go now, we’re dependent on others. We need to be dependent on ourselves.”
“Well said,” Nic replied nodding his head in agreement.
We continued to talk for a few more minutes, but since the hour had grown quite late it was decided we should retire for bed. On the way to our room Nic suddenly stopped walking and stood quietly as if in thought.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I just remembered what you told me earlier this evening – how you felt you were being watched when you returned to the palace after your Battlecom practice. Go on ahead and prepare for bed. I’m going to go downstairs and talk to the guards. I want everyone to be as vigilant as possible.”
After he left me, I made my way to our apartment. Stopping in front of the two guards at our door, I told them about my premonition and asked them to keep a keen eye out for trouble. As one of them opened the door, I turned back and told them to move from our room to Luc and Jonathan’s door.
After they initially questioned my judgment, I defused their concern by pointing out to them that since the boys’ room was further down the hall and closer to the stairway, it might be better to guard there. What I didn’t tell them was that when the little boys went to bed that night, I could see Luc was still upset over what he’d witnessed, and pulling him aside I whispered to him that I’d move the guards to his room.
Thanking me, he took off for his apartment, but turned and slowly walked back to me.
“Yes?” I asked looking down at him.
He gave me a shy look, then lowered his head and studied the pattern of the rug in the floor.
“What is it Luc? Is something else bothering you?”
“Ah… No… I… well… I was wondering, Your Grace, if you could say something to me in Icarian again. It sounded so beautiful.”
I reached out my hand and lifted his chin until his eyes met mine. Smiling I spoke three sentences to him. When I was done he was smiling brightly.
“What does it mean?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” I said, smiling back at him. “But now it’s time for you to sleep.”
Throwing his arms around me, he hugged me tight. After I kissed him goodnight, he turned and ran into his room just as the guards moved in front of the door to his and Jonathan’s apartment.
Later, as I prepared for bed, Nic returned. We climbed into bed and as I cuddled next to him, we spoke softly about the amazing and bizarre events of the day. Pulling me closer to him, Nic gave me a gentle kiss. I drifted off to sleep with the ghastly image of Lon Nol’s body lying headless in front of me on the floor of the grand salon, but I was comforted remembering the looks of determination on everyone’s faces during our late night discussion. I was inwardly at peace. I knew we had a long journey ahead, but at that moment, I felt it was possible to succeed.